Considering I barely follow currently-airing dramas, it’s a mini achievement that I completed four Spring 2015 dramas more or less within the season, and this is my lazy way of not doing a big write-up for each of them. The four in question are I’m Home, Kokoro ga Pokitto ne, Fuben na Benriya and 64 (Rokuyon). While none of them really hit it out of the park, they were watchable in their own ways.
1. I’m Home
This drama achieved two firsts: 1) having Kimura Takuya in a drama that doesn’t send me running away – I’ve not wanted to watch any of his dramas post-Hero (2001), and that is a long time; and 2) J-dramaland acknowledging Kimura is married and has been a father for the past decade. The man is 42 and it’s no shame to be putting him in fatherhood roles. The premise was fairly interesting but nothing new – Ieji Hisashi (Kimura Takuya) survives an explosion but wakes up with no memory of his past, and sees the faces of his wife Megumi (Ueto Aya) and son Yoshio covered with masks. So he sets out to regain his memory and uncover the mask mystery.
It is somewhat refreshing to see Kimura in a role that doesn’t require him to swagger, act cool and pretend he’s still single and happy to romance much younger actresses. Ieji post-accident is nothing like his former obnoxious self, so that goes a long way towards mending relationships he’d previously wrecked. The mask mystery is not much of a mystery, and this drama is really more about a man picking up the pieces of his life after an accident and trying to make sense of them. Somewhat like a character study, but done in very broad and predictable strokes, since it’s obvious someone targeted Ieji’s life because of something his previous asshole self did. However, the drama excels in the emotional beats – I have found myself getting teary in scenes such as the family cheering on Yoshio at the kid’s school play, and Ieji turning up to race with Yoshio for the school sports day. I also liked Ieji’s relationship with Subaru, his stepdaughter from a previous marriage, and thought Kimura himself nicely dealt with the two sides of Ieji. I have to admit, though, that pre-accident Ieji was pretty attractive despite being such an asshole – go-getters who know what they want and have no qualms about how to achieve it can be kinda cool (the styling definitely helped).
The drama progressed at a good pace until the last episode, where things wrapped up way too quickly and in a no-brainer way, probably because Ueto Aya was well into her pregnancy and scenes were done to accommodate her condition. It could definitely have used an extra episode, especially since Sawamura Ikki barely got to do anything. Kimura had decent chemistry with his co-stars and the drama benefited from having a great supporting cast including Nishida Toshiyuki (head of the 13th sales department), Suzuki Kosuke (Ieji’s colleague), Mizuno Miki (Ieji’s ex-wife) and Fubuki Jun (Ieji’s mother). Kimura also got to show off his cooking skills, which was pretty neat, and sometimes made me hungry while watching the drama!
2. Kokoro ga Pokitto ne
This drama is much ado about nothing – the emphasis being on the nothing. Abe Sadao is Kojima Haruta, who is trying to live a quiet, more solitary life after his previous career and marriage went south. He works for Otake Shin (Fujiki Naohito), who runs a store full of things that people have discarded. Haruta is just happy to keep to himself and always mutters he wants to be alone, but peace flies out of the window once he encounters the stalkerish Hayama Miyako (Mizuhara Kiko) and realises Shin’s girlfriend is actually his ex-wife Shizuka (Yamaguchi Tomoko).
I went into this mainly for Fujiki Naohito, though Abe Sadao won me over quickly and he was easily the best the drama had to offer. He made Haruta likeable and someone you’d want to root for – the poor man just wanted to be left alone but somehow got sucked into Miyako’s annoying, childish antics. Shin was just so nice and had zero temper, so it was easier to like the guys. As for the ladies, I never quite warmed up to either of them because Shizuka was trying too hard with her insane amount of selfies and need to gain approval, while Miyako was just like a shouty overgrown kid who harassed Haruta and insisted he should never leave her alone. Shizuka when toned down was actually much more likeable, but it’s a pity the drama never quite let her relax and I was left puzzling just why Shin fell for her and she him. Likewise, I never got the Haruta-Miyako pairing – he just seemed like a father constantly looking out for his wayward daughter. I liked it better when the ladies started bonding while still exchanging jibes with each other, heh. Their grudging friendship was kinda nice and I wish the drama had spent more time on that.
In short, Abe was excellent, Fujiki was adorable like a big puppy, and Yamaguchi sold her character well (she’s obviously lost none of her acting skills despite not having acted consistently over the last two decades). Mizuhara unfortunately stuck out like a sore thumb for the bulk of the drama, but I think half of that fault lay with the writing. The music was kind of funky and all the characters somehow managed to end up visiting the same (non-talking) shrink, which was hilarious for a while. There was also a fantastic rant by Haruta in episode 6. Other than that, not much else, really, which is sad considering it had potential both on the acting and plot fronts. Ah well.
3. Fuben na Benriya
This drama is complete snow porn. It doesn’t have much of a plot, but has quite a lot of heart and is my favourite of the lot. Takeyama Jun (Okada Masaki) is a screenwriter on his way to Furano in Hokkaido when he is stranded in a snowstorm in a nameless part of town. He stops by an izakaya to ask for help, but somehow gets mistaken as the son of Umemoto Soichi/Batsu-san (Endo Kenichi) and is unwillingly roped in to work as a handyman at Matsui Hideo’s (Suzuki Kosuke) benriya until he can leave town again. Initially resistant, Jun finds himself warming up to the town and its residents.
Japan and to some extent Hong Kong tend to do slice of life quite well, and Fuben na Benriya captures the small-town vibe with hilarious warmth. Almost nothing happens in this nameless town in the middle of nowhere (well, Hokkaido), people just go about their work in the day and get piss drunk at night at the cosplay izakaya. Jun gets roped into any number of things, from shovelling snow to walking the dogs and working his imagination overtime at the smallest thing that may suggest a greater conspiracy or something juicy. He’s also a certified whiner and proud of it, haha. It’s hilarious seeing him get into odd situations that are mostly of his own making, and naturally Batsu-san and Matsui are no help with their dry humour and wisecracks. Winter is my favourite season and snow-related jokes never get old, so it was a delight watching the episodes and seeing so much white. I’d gone into this for Endo Kenichi, who’s amazingly versatile, and it was a treat seeing him as Batsu-san. Suzuki Kosuke is another actor I’d grown to like recently (he was great in Liar Game) and he was wonderful as Matsui, while Okada Masaki acquitted himself well. Kudos to the entire cast for being willing to look extra crazy donning ridiculous costumes in freezing temperatures. The drama also had a nice list of supporting and guest actors, and the ending theme「雪風」by スピッツ is lovely.
Interestingly, all the key characters in the drama have surnames relating to plants/nature. For example, ume (Japanese apricot) in Umemoto, matsu (pine) in Matsui, take (bamboo) in Takeyama, and mori (forest) in Mori Miki (the girl who “sells” matches). Episode 11 also has a special event where everyone comes together to help make it a memorable day for the town, and it’s just lovely seeing everyone pitch in. Small-town spirit FTW! And while I think the ending is a bit abrupt, it keeps Jun’s hilarious tendency to assume right to the end. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a hint of a season 2… or is that my imagination working overtime too?
4. 64 (Rokuyon)
This drama is heavy and rather depressing since the premise is about a kidnap-murder case of a young girl Amemiya Shoko in 1989 (Showa ’64) that remains unsolved till this day and is reaching the end of its statute of limitations period. While the public relations office of D Prefectural Police is in a wrangle with the correspondents’ club, the Tokyo bigwigs decide to pay a visit to the family of Shoko-chan. Mikami Yoshinobu (Pierre Taki), the head of the public relations office, is sent to persuade the family to allow the visit, which is declined by Shoko’s father Amemiya Yoshio (Danta Yasunori). Mikami, who has his own problems at home – his daughter Ayumi has run away – decides to speak to his former colleagues who worked on Shoko’s case, but finds them all reluctant to talk about it. Just as he seems to be making some headway finally, a copycat crime occurs.
64 (Rokuyon) is based on a novel of the same name by Yokoyama Hideo. I was intrigued by the premise and gave it a shot, and while it was a heavy watch, it was quite interesting once things got going. Admittedly that took a while, and given it was only five episodes, I felt some material could have been tightened up. For one, the number of flashbacks could have been cut down. I’m all for judicious use of flashbacks so that time could be better spent on the story proper. The rift between the criminal investigation and police administration departments keeps growing and Mikami finds himself stuck between colleagues who were once also friends in battle but now have agendas aplenty. He spends a lot of time running around, meeting obstacles because people just wouldn’t talk or end up giving cryptic answers, and it gets frustrating for both him and the viewer, especially given how bureaucracy works. There’s a crazy scene where reporters from Tokyo heckle a junior police officer so badly he nearly collapses from fatigue, and that was a little painful to watch. But things are not as they seem, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover how they were worked out in the end. I won’t spoil it here, but I thought the way things unfolded for the 64 case was pretty well done, and the ending, while not a happy one, had a note of hope.
I haven’t seen Pierre Taki in anything (he seems to have done more films than dramas), but I thought he gave a solid performance as Mikami and liked his scenes with Kimura Yoshino, who played his wife Minako. Initially, I thought Nagayama Kento was Eita (they’re brothers), and he was okay as Akigawa, the leader of the correspondents’ club. Interestingly, there will be a film version (to be released in 2016) where Eita will take on the Akigawa role, while Sato Koichi will play Mikami. Ayano Go will play Suwa, an officer who works under Mikami – that role was played by Arai Hirofumi in the drama. Arai was also in I’m Home as Ieji’s former colleague Kuroki Jin, where he had a more sinister vibe, so it was really nice seeing his versatility. Overall, I think 64 (Rokuyon) is a good watch, but a little patience is definitely needed.